West End Healthline
By Rachel Newinski, MD
As we head into the end of the year the days get shorter and more people (myself included) will be turning to their favorite caffeinated beverage to get a boost of energy for the day. Caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world. The attention and energy boosting effects can propel people through the fog of fatigue and sleepiness. Caffeine, however, is not without risks, especially when consumed at high amounts. Before you have another sip of coffee, here are some important facts about caffeine:
1. What is caffeine and how does it work?
Caffeine is a naturally occurring compound found in many kinds of plants, including coffee, cacao and guarana, and has stimulating effects on the brain and nervous system. It works by blocking adenosine receptors in the brain which decreases signals of fatigue and sleepiness, and therefore promotes wakefulness and attention. Your body will adapt to regular caffeine intake and you can start to feel tired without consuming it. In other areas of the body, blocking adenosine can reduce relaxing signals on things like the heart and blood vessels. This can result in elevations in pulse and blood pressure.
2. What kinds of products contain caffeine and how much?
Coffee is the most commonly used caffeine containing product, with tea following it in second. But caffeine is also present in other beverages such as soda and energy drinks. It is available in supplements like pills and pre-workout powders. Also, chocolate contains a small amount of caffeine in it as well.
An average 8-ounce cup of drip coffee contains 80-100 mg of caffeine. Espresso often contains slightly more caffeine in a much smaller volume. A 12 ounce can of cola or other caffeinated soda contains 30-40 mg of caffeine, similar to an 8-ounce cup of black tea at 30-50 mg. Energy drinks and supplements can vary widely, averaging between 40-250 mg per container. Surprisingly, decaffeinated products, like decaf coffee still contain 8-15 mg per serving.
3. How much caffeine is recommended?
For healthy adults, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that up to 400 mg of caffeine per day is an amount that is not commonly associated with negative effects. However, health conditions like pregnancy, breastfeeding and heart conditions may alter how much caffeine can be safely tolerated. If you are someone with one of these conditions, speak to your primary care physician about caffeine consumption.
4. What happens if I have too much caffeine?
Overconsumption of caffeine can lead to a variety of effects including: difficulty sleeping, anxiety, fast heart rate, jitters, upset stomach, headache and mood disturbances. The level of consumption at which these symptoms may occur will vary from person to person, but are less likely to occur at daily consumption levels of less than 400 mg per day.
Dangerous effects like seizures can occur at consumption levels around 1,200 mg. This is more commonly associated with products that are more highly concentrated like caffeine powder and dietary supplements. It is recommended to avoid highly concentrated caffeine products because of this, or to use with extreme caution.
5. Can children or teens have caffeine?
The FDA has not set a recommended level for children. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages use of caffeine by children and adolescents.
In conclusion, caffeine is a widely popular substance which can be used for positive effects. But, overconsumption can result in negative side effects and can even be dangerous. If you have questions about caffeine and your health, please see your friendly primary care doctor to have a conversation about it!
Dr. Newinski is a physician at Allina Health United Physicians, 233 Grand Ave, St. Paul, MN 55102, 651-241-5200.